ROCKVILLE – In the 10.5 years Craig Simoneau has lived in Rockville, he’s noticed a fundamental shift within the city.
“The change that is happening is the suburban community becoming a little more urban,” said Simoneau.
After a decade of serving as the city’s Department of Public Works director, Simoneau found out Feb. 26 the mayor and City Council wanted to promote him to acting city manager after they fired former City Manager Barbara Matthews.
Simoneau accepted the job and entered the city manager’s office the morning of Feb. 29 as the city’s new chief executive.
He drove 1.7 miles from his house to City Hall and headed to the lower level of the building.
There, he packed up his belongings from his Public Works desk, walked up one flight of stairs and settled into the city manager’s office, complete with a desk, conference table and window view of Maryland Avenue.
By that point, Matthews had moved her personal belongings, leaving behind a few stacks of paper for Simoneau to sift through as well as her name tag hanging next to the office door.
The morning began as a busy one for Simoneau, a professional engineer who graduated from West Point in 1983 and received his master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He arrived early to work and sent out an email to staff at 9:09 a.m. announcing he took over for Matthews.
During the next 1.5 hours, Simoneau worked with the communications staff to issue a short press release announcing him as the acting city manager. Sections of the city website also needed updating, as well as Simoneau’s computer access.
He even asked to be removed from group emails within Public Works to relieve the volume of new messages coming into his inbox.
With the mayor and City Council due to formally appoint him that night, Simoneau had to prepare quickly for the council’s evening executive session, followed by its regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m.
Making that even more challenging, the city’s finance department was just over a week away from posting its prepared Fiscal Year 2017 budget online, with another briefing to the mayor and council scheduled for that night.
The city’s Department of Finance reports directly to the city manager, so that meant Simoneau would have to be in-the-know about the major issues within the budget after previously only handling the Department of Public Works’ budget requests.
He skipped lunch that Monday, ate a snack that afternoon and received a briefing from the city’s financial staff.
“I wasn’t a ball of nerves but I wanted to make sure everything was all right,” he said.
So far, he’s won favorable reviews from the city’s elected officials.
“Actually, he’s done an excellent job. He’s just put on the city manager hat and taken over that role and responsibility,” said council member Virginia Onley, describing herself as “very pleased” with how Simoneau conducted himself through his first week leading the city staff.
“He’s checked what needs to be done first,” she added about his priorities.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton echoed Onley’s sentiments.
“I think Craig is doing a great job and he’s got some tasks ahead of him,” she said.
On Day 2, Simoneau held a senior staff meeting, which he plans to do routinely.
Simoneau said he encouraged “frank input” from the senior staffers and said he would not prioritize Public Works above other sectors of the city government just because he spent more than a decade working in that department.
“Public Works is going to receive no more priority than everybody else will, even though I came from that department,” said Simoneau.
When he visited his former post last week, one of the division chiefs asked him what he would still do to work with specific projects started by the department under his watch.
“I said, ‘Nothing,’” recalled Simoneau. “Judy Ding is in charge.”